History of International Harvester of Canada

A short history of Canadian International Harvester and their crawler tractors.

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courtesy Brian Kirkpatrick, Larry Smith and Warren Brewer
A free exposition for local industries and natural resources at the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau building drew a crowd in 1919. Tractors were rated there through 1913.

Canada was the initial focal point for large-scale agriculture as it began the utilization of the vast prairies of the Great Plains. Conditions were as challenging there as they were in northern Illinois when, in the 1840s, John Deere pioneered use of the self-scouring steel plow.

To be profitable, however, Canadians knew that they had to get beyond the one-bottom, one-horse plow. More than a century ago, in 1908, the first Winnipeg (Manitoba) tractor trials were held, pitting huge steam engines against each other, and against the new upstart gas engine “tractors.”

The Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition, as it was formally known, rated steam and gas tractors on hauling and plowing abilities and fuel consumption. These competitions continued through 1913 with increasingly sophisticated testing. Tests were then held in the U.S. under the auspices of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) until formally taken over by the University of Nebraska in 1920.

Merger creates International Harvester

Competition in the farm equipment industry was fierce late in the 19th century, and none of the competitors was making much money. Due to a severe recession in 1896 and 1897, making things worse, harvesting dynasties McCormick and Deering became serious about joining forces.

George Perkins, a partner in the financial firm of J.P. Morgan, pushed the merger efforts, which included acquiring three smaller firms. Perkins proposed a 10-year trust that would hold all the stock of the joint companies with Perkins, McCormick and Charles Deering (William’s son) as trustees.

On July 28, 1902, International Harvester was born. The name was picked by Perkins to reflect what he saw to be a global enterprise. International Harvester started with an 85 percent share of U.S. harvesting machine sales. Besides the basic manufacturing facilities, Harvester (as the company came to be known) operated iron foundries, twine factories, sawmills and timberlands, hemp farms, coal and iron mines and its own railroad.

Hamilton established as Canadian Industrial Center

At the time of the merger forming International Harvester, William Deering was already building a factory in Hamilton, Ontario, an industrial city at the west end of Lake Ontario. With the mergers forming International Harvester, the Hamilton plant would produce both McCormick and Deering products, as well as those of other brands as need arose.

The Oliver Chilled Plow Co. works, which IH took over in 1918, was also operating in Hamilton in 1902. Other leading industries then in Hamilton included Sawyer-Massey (farm equipment), Studebaker (automobiles) and National Steel Car (railway cars).

By 1910, Harvester was well established in the Canadian market. Hamilton was strategically located to take advantage of both Great Lakes shipping and several rail lines running through the city. Hamilton was also located near the Great Plains wheat-growing area in central Canada. Another important benefit of the time: Hamilton had a dependable source of electric power.

Behemoths pushed aside by smaller lighter tractors

Back in Chicago, Illinois, Perkins rode herd over Harvester’s “millionaire officers” and appointed a professional general manager to run day-to-day operations. The first was a capable man named Clarence Funk. After 10 years, however, the McCormicks borrowed $5 million from J.D. Rockefeller and gained control of the corporation. Their first move was to replace Funk with a general manager of their own choosing, Alexander Legge. Legge’s vision and fortitude gave birth to the Farmall tractor and other game-changing products.

By 1910, International Harvester had surpassed Hart-Parr as leading producer of the big tractors popular in that time. In 1912, IH, Rumely and Hart-Parr together produced almost 10,000 tractors. Most of these were in the 20,000-pound class. At that time, Harvester tractors were built in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago. The Hamilton, Ontario, plant produced harvesters, threshers and a myriad of agricultural implements.

In the second decade of the 20th century, however, Canada represented the leading tractor market in the Americas. Mechanical plowing was essential to the opening of the vast western prairies. Trainloads of large tractors made their way from the U.S. to Canada. Canadians wanted huge machines of up to 50hp.

While development of these monsters certainly advanced the industry, it was not what the average American farmer needed. Unfortunately, 1914 was a time of partial crop failures and economic downturn. Canada’s land boom collapsed, and along with it, the market for huge tractors. Industry leaders soon realized that the future was in servicing the many with smaller items, rather than the few.

The advent of the first world war in 1914 also impacted agricultural equipment production. Auto magnate Henry Ford was soon involved in the tractor market with his low-cost 20hp Fordson, to be supplied to Great Britain in large numbers. IH countered with Titan and Mogul tractors in the same power range. As smaller, lighter tractors became available, farmers realized that they could convert their horse-drawn implements to tractor use.

Hamilton operation thrives

International Harvester claimed that, by 1950, its Hamilton, Ontario, operation was the largest agricultural implement works in the British empire. After it opened in 1903, the Hamilton plant grew quickly to the point where it had its own railway and locomotives moving parts and equipment around the facility.

Employment peaked in 1950, when varied farm implements, from threshers to hay rakes (as well as completed implements and subassemblies produced for shipment to other IH factories), were being made in Hamilton. The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 expanded opportunity for trade with Europe and other Commonwealth countries.

The Farmall M was the first tractor to be assembled in Harvester’s U.K. plant in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England. Production of the BM, or “British Model M” began in 1949, some 10 years after the Model M was introduced in the U.S. The Farmall BMD diesel came out in 1952. In the mid-1950s, a Model B250 wheel tractor was imported to Canada for sale through the Hamilton operation. Since the tractor was equipped with a 3-point hitch, the factory produced a complete line of 3-point implements.

Crawlers for farm, forestry and construction

Several new products were introduced in 1958 for domestic and export markets. In addition to a line of trucks, Canadian IH engineers completed final design and development on a new line of three crawler tractor models aimed at farm, forestry and construction uses. While Harvester in the U.S. offered a large variety of crawlers beginning in the 1920s, the new models were unique, compact machines primarily targeting the Canadian market.

The Model T-4

This compact crawler was powered by a 122.7-cubic-inch, 4-cylinder gasoline engine (the same type used in the IH Model 240 wheel tractor). The engine was rated at 2,000rpm and produced 32hp at the PTO. The tractor weighed 6,995 pounds, was equipped with a 5-speed transmission and Harvester’s Torque Amplifier partial-range power shift (optional). It was capable of pulling a 3-bottom plow with its Category 1 3-point hitch (also optional). The tractor featured a live PTO and a hydraulic system. Production ran from 1959 through 1964.

The Model T-5

Powered by a 134.8-cubic-inch, 4-cylinder gasoline engine (the same engine used in the IH Model 340 wheel tractor), this 7,005-pound crawler was rated at 2,000rpm and produced 36hp at the PTO. It used the 5-speed transmission and optional Torque Amplifier. This crawler was rated for a 4-bottom plow, and could be equipped with either a swinging drawbar or a Category 1 3-point hitch. Standard equipment included a hydraulic system and a live PTO. The tractor weighed in at 7,005 pounds for its Nebraska Tractor Test (Test 753). Production ran from 1959 through 1964.

The Model TD-5

Essentially the same machine as the T-5, the TD-5 had a BD-144 British-built 4-cylinder diesel engine that produced 35hp at 2,000rpm from 144 cubic inches displacement. The TD-5 weighed 7,155 pounds and was rated for four plow bottoms. Production ran from 1959 through 1964. Retail price in 1960 was $1,460 (Canadian).

The 4 and 5 series crawlers shared a chassis that could be mounted on track frames with several gauges and lengths depending on application. In the standard configuration, the T-4, T-5 and TD-5 used a 5-speed sliding spur-gear transmission, which, when coupled with Harvester’s proprietary 2-speed Torque Amplifier attachment, offered a total of 10 forward speeds. All of these machines were steered with conventional dry steering clutches and brakes and featured pinion and bull-gear final drives.

The 500

In 1964, the 500 Series tractors were engineered and developed at Hamilton. The 500, the first in the series, came on the market in 1965 and production continued to 1969. A 5-speed transmission was standard, but a 4-speed unit with the 2-speed Torque Amplifier was an option. A gasoline engine of 145 cubic inches was available, as was a British-built 4-cylinder diesel with 154-cubic-inch displacement. Both were rated at 2,000rpm and both produced 37hp. Interestingly, these tractors (weighing approximately 7,900 pounds) demonstrated a maximum pull of more than 100 percent of their weight in their Nebraska tests (Tests 950 and 951). The 500 was aimed primarily at the agricultural market.

The 500C

Next in the series was the 500C, available in both gas and diesel. The gasoline version used a 4-cylinder engine of 145 cubic inches and weighed 7,050 pounds. The diesel version weighed 7,260 pounds and featured a 3-cylinder IH German engine of 155 cubic inches. Both were rated at 2,500rpm. Transmission options were either the 4-speed unit with Torque Amplifier, or a 3-speed unit with torque converter and shuttle shift. Hydraulics, 3-point hitch, and PTO were available. Production ran from 1969 to 1974, and was aimed at both the agricultural and industrial markets.

The 500E

The E version of the 500 Series, primarily an industrial machine, was frequently equipped with a dozer blade. It differed from the 500C in that the frame was strengthened for dozer work and the dozer blade lift power was increased. Only a diesel engine was offered, the 155-cubic-inch, 3-cylinder unit, producing 44hp at 2,500rpm. Transmission options included a 3-speed gearbox with torque converter and shuttle shift, or a 4-speed box with one reverse. The E was built from 1973 to 1977.

IH falls victim to shifting forces

In the 1960s and ’70s, International Harvester became the largest truck, tractor and farm equipment company in the world, but it was seldom smooth sailing for the Chicago-based firm. Competition, economic downturns, technical mistakes, labor disputes, droughts in the Great Plains, and governmental interference eventually led to its downfall.

In 1979, Canadian sales reached over $1 billion, but in 1980 sales dropped precipitously, the result of factors cited above, as well as rising interest rates and an ensuing economic depression. As debts and losses mounted, corporate headquarters in Chicago sought a buyer for Harvester’s agricultural assets.

On Nov. 26, 1984, those assets were sold to Texas oil giant Tenneco, the parent company of J.I. Case. The agricultural unit was renamed Case IH. Tenneco spent millions of dollars executing the merger of Case and IH assets. Employees and dealers of both entities went through some hard times, but in the end, all agreed that all had been treated fairly and that the final outcome was the best that could have been expected.

Nevertheless, many years passed before the two organizations were truly blended. After years of struggling with poor sales-to-cost ratios, Case finally closed the Hamilton plant on July 1, 1999. Thus ended nearly a century of blood, sweat and tears producing all manner of agricultural products from early reapers to combines, trucks and crawler tractors. FC

After 36 years in the aircraft industry, Bob Pripps returned to his first love and began writing about tractors. He has authored some 30 books on the subject and several magazine articles. Pripps has a maple syrup farm near Park Falls, Wisconsin. In harvesting the maple sap, he relies on a Ford Jubilee and a Massey Ferguson 85.

The author acknowledges Brian Kirkpatrick, Larry Smith and Warren Brewer, authors of A History and Memories of International Harvester Canada, 1903-1985, for their assistance with this article. The book is available at VolumesDirect.

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